10 Ways to Improve Your Life
March 2nd, 2015 by Katie Morton
I caught up with a friend over lunch (no, it wasn’t Gayle King) and we were talking about our jobs and careers, our campaigns of self-improvement—daily workouts for me, going to bed on time for her—and our hopes for the future, as we always do when we’re together.
I told her about an exciting opportunity I was hoping to land: to become the managing editor of a world-famous author’s web site. I bragged to my friend about all of the amazing things I can do for the author’s site; many of these things I’m already doing for a client of mine.
My friend asked me gently, “And do you do all of these things for your own web site?”
“No!” I laughed, like it was the most ridiculous question in the world. “You know how it is. The cobbler’s kids have no shoes.” Are you familiar with this saying? It basically means that the things you’re skilled at, you’ll do for others while you and yours go without.
1. Understand the Time Scarcity Myth
I wasted the next few minutes of our conversation defending the idea that I don’t have time to work on my own web site. I’m writing a book! I have these clients! I’m raising a kid! Blah blah blah…snore.
There, no one could possibly argue with that giant pile of nonsense. I had myself nicely fooled into thinking that this is the way things are, that I don’t have time to communicate with my beloved readers or to redesign my mess-of-a-web-site.
It’s actually way easier to ignore our own needs. It’s easy—heck, it’s almost fun to wait until we’re hangry to eat and then faceplant into naughty foods; to prioritize just about anything over exercising our bodies; to serve others thoroughly and to enjoy their praise (or avoid their wrath) at the expense of serving ourselves at all.
It feels righteous and giving to ignore our own needs, but it’s really just a stupid waste of our God-given existence. In short, if you want to improve your life, the first step is to find the time. I’m not saying this step is easy, but it is necessary.
To begin, you must allow yourself to enjoy downtime. Stop buying into the current trend of optional stress and making yourself so nonstop busy that you can’t even think. Next, manipulate your schedule to make time for the things that matter to you.
In order to have enough time for myself, I go to bed and rise early. This schedule shift gives me plenty of sleep, plus time to tackle fun priorities like writing novels that I would abandon otherwise because I’m too “busy.”
You might have to get creative when it comes to finding the time to improve your own life, too, but only after you drop the rushing around busy-crazy habit.
2. Stop Jumping Through the Wrong Hoops
This week another friend enlisted me to help a celebrity makeup artist who’s launching a makeup line this year, so I put together a kick-ass online content strategy for her.
As it always does when we’re being obtuse about the lessons we need to learn, the Universe slapped me upside the head. As I was crazy-busy (sigh) making editorial calendars for other people based on the premise that I could make them rock stars, my words kept coming back to haunt me: “I don’t have time to work on my own web site.”
And finally, the lesson snapped into place. I saw an email from Hay House inviting aspiring writers to a retreat in Maui. After you paid for airfare, hotel, and to be an attendee, you were then allowed to enter a contest: you could submit a book proposal, and if you’re selected for publication, you get a $10,000 advance.
Now, forgive me Hay House, because I would love it if they chose my book.
But I thought…”What a crock when people can take charge of their own success these days. If you want a book published, do it yourself.” Since authors are expected to work hard to publicize their own stuff, whether they’re self-published or handed a book deal, why would you jump through these hoops if publication is what you’re after?
Bottom line: if you want to improve your life, stop waiting to be rescued. Stop waiting to get picked for the team. Stop buying literal and figurative lottery tickets. Figure out exactly what you can do to have an impact on the quality of your life, the things that you have control over, and take action.
3. Uncover Your “If This, Then That” Thinking
So what if you jump through hoops anyway because your hopes for publication are riding on a traditional publishing deal, and what if you don’t get selected?
This is exactly what I’d been doing: sitting around thinking, “Pick me, world-famous author. Let me make you even more famous, even though working for you would make it harder for me to finish my book and to pay any attention to my own readers and tribe. Let me ride all of my hopes for success on hitching my wagon to yours.”
I had been thinking, “If I get this job, I’ll have it made. And if I don’t, I’ll wither in obscurity.” Way to engage in totally incorrect “if this, then that” thinking!
We never know what’s going to happen, but I was so sure: If this, then that—but if that doesn’t happen, then BLURG. We often look at life like it’s a choose-your-own adventure book, with very few possible outcomes.
A lot us harbor these weird thoughts that aren’t true. If I get married, I don’t need to worry about finances. If I get that job, my life will be perfect. If I lose weight, I will finally feel whole. If I get published, my life will be complete.
When we ditch these strange, false associations, and we instead put in the work on ourselves and for ourselves to improve our lives by picking high-impact areas, it’s far more likely we will notice a sudden surge of improvement. And it’s likely that if we operate this way over time, by giving our high-impact areas priority attention, then a spaghetti-like mess of options and opportunities may very well pile up at our feet.
4. Act in the Face of Your Fears
We all have just a few things that we know would improve our lives if only we would just do them. Why don’t we do what we know would improve our lives? What’s the hold up? Usually because of these 3 things:
A fear of success.
A fear of failure.
A fear of hard work.
At any rate, all of this boils down to a fear of change. It’s terrifying to change the status quo, even if the status quo involves a lot of complaining about the status quo.
Think of those who have made it BIG in this life. They aren’t afraid of these things. Or maybe they are, but they do what must be done anyway. Oprah has said that the most successful among us have failed the most—but only because they’re willing to try new things and to take risks.
To put it in very simple terms: most successful people figure out what would improve their lives and the lives of others, and they prioritize their time to make it happen. Even when it means taking a risk. Even though they might be wasting their time. Even though they might be embarrassed if it doesn’t work out the way they planned, they still act in the face of those fears.
5. Fix Problems Instead of Complaining
Like my complaint about “not enough time” to work on my own content, complaints are really a form of escapism. By complaining, we create an alternate reality where it’s impossible for us to take responsibility and be successful at improving our situations.
Complaining is also a way to reframe an excuse as an obstacle. Do we all need to vent sometimes? I’m not so sure. But if you really feel you have to, then do it once and move on to finding a solution.
Look, I’m only human. If you ask if I’ve ever gnawed on a complaint like a dog on a pork chop, I’ll raise my hand. Just like that dog, there are many times when I Will. Not. Let. It. Go.
But when you notice yourself doing that, stop it. Unfurrow your brow. Relax your jaw. And move on to figuring out a way to fix reality rather than escaping to Complaint Land.
6. Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper
“Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others.” — H. Jackson Brown, Jr., Author of Life’s Little Instruction Book
Another way to say this that’s growing in popularity is, “Stay in your own lane.” When we don’t stay in our own lane we:
- Kill our confidence (or build false confidence) by comparing ourselves to others.
- Waste time complaining about what THAT guy is doing, OMG, what a JerK, I can’t STAND that mofo, what a WASTE OF SPACE, what is he DOING, he is such an ASS. You get the picture.
- Worry about the person who just said all of that about you.
You could create the most beautiful, creative creation ever to have been created, and some people won’t like it. That’s okay. They aren’t your people. It’s not about them, as much as critics sometimes think it is. Keep reminding yourself that you’re not doing what you love to piss anyone off, but nor are you doing it to win approval.
But who hasn’t let a critic get into their head? Don’t let them. Do your best, when you first notice it happening, to pry them out of your psyche with a crowbar and nail the thing shut. Keep improving your life for you. It’s not about them.
Keep your eyes on your own paper: don’t do things for praise. Don’t do things to avoid criticism. Instead, do what you love and do it well.
And for the love of God, stop gossiping. Judging other people is the fastest way to solidify your standing in life as a nasty prune face. Mind your own business; improve your own life and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Suck
I saw this 2-minute video of Ira Glass speaking about the gap between a creative person’s taste and their skills when they first start out. And this reminded me of my first novel and made me feel infinitely better.
I was all set to publish my first novel this past fall. I had a book cover made. I was bouncing around the ring like Muhammad Ali, saying, “Let’s DO this.” I was so ready. I had started working on that book 12 years ago, and by golly, it was finally going to see the light of day.
I loaded the book into my Kindle to see what it would look like and to do a final proof before it hit the presses. And it SUCKED.
In less than a year, I’ve just about written the second book. So how’s that for a speed differential. And it’s so clear to me now that my taste and my skills are finally getting all lined up. When I read passages from this second book, it’s all joy, but when I read pages from the first book, it’s mostly cringe-worthy.
But here’s the thing: had I not gotten a first, shitty book out of my system; had I not learned about plot and pacing and character development and conflict by practicing on the first book, then the second book would be the same experimental pile of feces that the first book was.
When you set out to improve your life, in any which way—whether it’s by getting healthier or getting organized—it can be those regular things we do to live better…we will probably suck at first. We will probably keep forgetting to hang up our clothes or to buy lettuce. We need to keep practicing, and keep studying the skills of others who have mastered these before us.
8. Don’t Confuse Courage With Wisdom
This is one of those lessons that has bitten me in the butt enough times that I hope I’ve gotten it down by now.
Sometimes when we’re working on life improvement projects, we think, “If only I knew just a little bit more about this topic. If only the secret formula would click in my brain and then I could go forth and conquer.”
Maybe you keep “forgetting” to buy lettuce, and you think there’s some motivational something-or-other out there (a book, a person, a product), and if only you could find this resource that would change your life and give you the wisdom to transform into a health nut!
Sometimes, my friend, you don’t need wisdom. Sometimes you know exactly what you’ve gotta do, but you’re being a wimp about it. We often think wisdom will help motivate us when we actually need to take a deep breath and do what we know needs to be done to improve our lives.
Courage. That’s what you need. It’s time to stop searching and embrace the Nike slogan.
9. Face Reality
How do we confuse courage with wisdom? It’s usually because we don’t want to face reality. Reality is often uncomfortable.
I have had to face certain unfortunate truths about myself before making a change. I didn’t want to face reality because it would mean making changes that I didn’t particularly want to make, yet I knew the changes would make my life better.
For example, I didn’t want a regular workout routine. I didn’t want to change the way I was eating. For a long time, it was easier to ignore reality and keep going along with the way things were.
When I finally faced reality, it was clear: I had to make a change. It was hard at first. But now I’m not going back.
Another way to face reality and improve your life at the same time? Have gratitude for exactly how things are, right now. It’s too easy to forget how lucky we are. Remind yourself often.
10. Invest Your Time in the Right Priorities
If you’re anything like me, then it’s highly possible you’re working your tail off on the wrong priorities. Why the heck would we do that? It’s most likely due to a fear of failure if we actually put our time towards what matters most to us.
Of course, in defense of the fear of failure, it’s not that fun when we think of investing our time in gains that aren’t guaranteed to come to fruition.
If we sit down to watch a marathon of reruns on TV, we know exactly what will happen: we’ll be entertained for a few hours. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it was a conscious decision. Otherwise, we’re left with the feeling that we didn’t invest our time; we wasted it instead.
It helps to remember that the right priorities frequently involve delayed gratification. Investing our time right now to improve our lives at some unforeseen point in the future involves risk. It’s a risk that our time is wasted with nothing to show for it. But what’s the alternative? Not trying and regretting it? The time will pass either way.
I wrote about this a bit in my last post, about how we often think we need validation from others in order to feel important. What if you put some of your time and talents towards your own goals and fulfillment, regardless of what other people think? You’d certainly improve your life.
What if you created for the sake of creating without worrying so much about the outcome? What if we all just enjoyed ourselves for once, by helping others as well as ourselves? I’ll tell you what: a spaghetti-like mess of options and opportunities. Go forth and help others as well as yourself, and feast on an improved life.
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